Federal judge disciplines lawyers for "flagrant violation" of rules

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The federal drug trial of Biloxi pharmacist Nick Tran has been delayed until January.

And  his team of lawyers was scolded in federal court Wednesday after admitting they were not prepared for the scheduled trial to begin.

Tran is the last of four defendants in a case that involves the distribution of prescription narcotics.

Two physicians and an office manager at the former Family Medical Center in East Biloxi have already reached plea agreements in the federal conspiracy case.

Unusual circumstances involving his legal team overshadowed the trial proceedings. Simply put, his three lawyers were not prepared.

That led to a scolding by the federal judge and possible sanctions against the trio of lawyers.

Nick Tran is accused of conspiring with three others in a prescription drug ring that distributed large amounts of Lortab and other narcotics.

The owner of 'Tran's Pharmacy' was granted the continuance requested by his lawyers, who became the center of unwanted attention in court.

Lead counsel Albert Fong, from Houston, Texas, told the court he was "fired" by Tran and learned of the dismissal Sunday in a phone call when he was driving from Houston to Gulfport.

Fong said he was "let go" after suggesting the defendant consider a plea bargain.

"I've been cast as an individual who is against him, rather than working for him," Fong told Judge Louis Guirola, who questioned him about his preparations for the Tran trial.

Fong said he talked with four witnesses in the case, but did so over the phone. He told the judge he delegated a lot of responsibility to co-counsel, Adam Tran.

"I've never been fired before in my life," Fong told the court. "When Mr. Tran said 'you're done,' I thought the other lawyers would proceed with the trial," he said.

Fong told the judge that defendant Tran, "does not want me to participate in any way."

The Houston attorney apologized to the court and to the citizens of Harrison County.

"In 19 years of practicing law, I've always taken care of my business," said Fong. "I humbly apologize, and I've learned from this mistake".

Attorney David Morrison admitted that he too wasn't prepared to go to trial. Morrison told the court he'd spent many hours over the weekend and photo copied more than 17,000 documents pertaining to the case.

"I wasn't hired to drive the train," Morrison told the judge. "I've not done what I would normally do if I was running the show."

"We're not all equally in charge," Morrison told the court, "I don't think I can be held responsible for not doing someone else's job."

"All I need is a little time," Morrison told the judge. "I need time to prepare and argue a conspiracy drug case."

Judge Guirola granted the continuance, then admonished the lawyers for the delay. The judge was stern and direct in scolding the three lawyers for their unpreparedness.

He told the three they were "diligent in nothing" and reminded them of the first rule of the American Bar Association's rules of professional conduct, which says a lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client.

The judge says the three lawyers failed to do that. Judge Guirola not only verbally scolded the lawyers, he said they will bear the cost of enpaneling the jury which had been seated to hear the case.

The judge also said the lawyers have 30 days to file a brief explaining why they should not be suspended.

"He did the right thing of course. It's just a tough situation. We're in a position where we're trying to make lemonade out of lemons. But I don't disagree with his honor. Sometimes we're in a position where we can only do the best we can. And I'm doing the best I can," said attorney Morrison, outside the courthouse after the proceedings.

Attorneys Fong and Adam Tran had no comment afterward. Defendant Nick Tran also declined to comment.

Judge Guirola did offer a word of advice to defendant Tran.

"I suggest you get a handle on your attorneys," Judge Guirola told Nick Tran.

The new trial date for Nick Tran is Monday, January 4, 2010.

Judge Guirola told the lawyers their conduct was a "flagrant violation" of the federal court rules and the rules of professional conduct.

Former lead counsel Albert Fong was granted his motion to withdraw from the case, since he's been fired by the defendant.

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